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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Arguing Abortion Laws on the State Level

Every year in Sweet Home Virginia and neighboring Tennessee we see legislation introduced aimed at stopping the horrible act of abortion. Most of the bills never make it to the floor and like the aborted baby die in some committee room. they never stood a chance of passing and most would be illegal on the federal level. So why does this happen? The Kingsport Times offers this reason - "Sparring over abortion is mostly political theater." This editorial may make some people mad, but you cant deny the truth that it contains.

Sparring over abortion is mostly political theater

Before the bill was pulled yesterday, the Tennessee House of Representatives was considering legislation to amend the state’s constitution to say that nothing secures or protects a woman’s right to abortion or requires funding for the procedure.

For all the controversy attendant upon it, the amendment is largely political theater. Its effect would be relatively marginal absent a change in abortion law on the federal level.

Even if a Tennessee abortion resolution passes this session, it must subsequently pass the General Assembly after the 2010 elections by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Only then would it be placed on the ballot in the 2014 gubernatorial election. At least 50 percent of voters, plus one, would have to approve it before it became a part of the state constitution.

But even then, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe, which essentially allows unrestricted access to an abortion in the first trimester of a pregnancy, would stand. At most, the amendment would allow state lawmakers to require women seeking abortions in the second trimester to sign an informed consent statement and submit to a brief waiting period — usually 48 hours.

The two versions of the abortion amendments which had been competing for Tennessee lawmakers’ votes — and might well again this session — could not have been more different. The Republican proposal does not provide for exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to protect the health of the mother. The Democratic version provides for these exceptions.

The Republican version of this constitutional amendment has passed the Senate four times, but it has always been blocked on the House side, which has been controlled by Democrats until this year.

House Speaker Kent Williams, a former Republican who was elected to his post with 49 Democrat votes and his own, has said he is prepared to be the tie-breaking vote to bring the measure to a full chamber vote. The question is, which version of the constitutional amendment — the Republican or the Democratic — will emerge from the Public Health and Family Assistance Committee? That eight-member committee, appointed by Williams, is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Since those members will presumably split along party lines, that leaves Williams, in his capacity as speaker, to cast the deciding vote.

The Republican version of the amendment seeks to change the state’s constitution. The Democratic version, which includes a provision to protect the health (mental as well as physical) of the mother, does not. The Democratic version gives the appearance of change while actually preserving the status quo.

The irony in this debate is that, even as passions flare on both sides, abortion has continued to decline. In 1980, total abortions among Tennessee residents both in and out of the state, reached an historic high of 20,124. In 2006, the latest comprehensive figures available, the number of abortions had declined to 12,733.

Given that trend, a generation hence, perhaps abortion will have ceased to be an object of public controversy and political interest.

I have come to accept that for the most part, fighting abortion on the state level is very weak at best, and political theater at worst. It is a sad but true fact. On the federal level we fight to over turn Roe/Wade. That would put the legality of abortion in the states hands. While many states would outlaw the practice, many would not. I think there are poll numbers now showing that most Americans support the right to choose.

It is becoming clear that we cant legislate abortion out of the picture, but as the declining numbers in TN show we are making advances by education and personal responsibility. As Duncan Hunter said the key is changing hearts and minds. For me on a personal level...I will never support the act of abortion. I do find some comfort knowing that I am not responsible for the act and in the end it will be between the woman and God.

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